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Theory and Methods in the Study of Distributive Politics*

  • Michael Albertus

While many scholars have moved toward using individual-level data to test theories of distributive politics, no studies have ever explicitly examined differences between individual and aggregate analyses of a distributive program. By leveraging nationwide individual-level data on both revealed voter preferences and the actual receipt of particularistic benefits through a contemporary Venezuelan land reform initiative, this article demonstrates that scholars can most effectively test and refine individual-level theories of distributive politics by combining both individual- and macro-level data. There are at least two advantages to doing so. First, comparing and contrasting findings from data at different levels of analysis can enable researchers to paint a more complete picture of distributive targeting. Second, when distributive benefits can be impacted or redirected by subnational politicians, as is common with many distributive programs, individual-level data alone can generate mistaken inferences that are an artifact of competing targeting attempts at different levels of government instead of initial targeting strategies. I demonstrate both of these points and discuss practical and simple recommendations regarding data collection strategies for the purposes of effectively testing theories of distributive politics.

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Michael Albertus, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Department of Political Science, University of Chicago, 5828 Pick Hall, Chicago, IL 60637 ( To view supplementary material for this article, please visit

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Political Science Research and Methods
  • ISSN: 2049-8470
  • EISSN: 2049-8489
  • URL: /core/journals/political-science-research-and-methods
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